Like so many countries, it would be so easy to fly into Mauritius and rarely stray from your resort. And while the in-house activity itinerary may be lengthy, a 20 minute bout of aqua aerobics has little to offer in comparison to the intricacies of Mauritian culture. With no indigenous people, Mauritius culture has taken a little from each exploring country that’s made its mark here.
From a swashbuckling pirate past, it’s become a haven of diplomacy – with over a dozen religions all sitting side by side. The theme on this island is very much join in, get along and enjoy the simple things in life… with perhaps a smidge of western life added for good measure.
Unsurprisingly, Mauritius isn’t all hammocks and swaying palms. Though, living here does come with the trappings of island life. Beach picnics, forest hikes, paddle boarding and long, hot sunny days. Then, there’s the regular sundowners. More on those later. Farmers here concentrate on sugar cane – which is great for your morning cuppa, but little else. Importing goods comes at a price – not just at the till, but on the shelves too. Choice is limited – but that just saves time deliberating over which brand of beans to buy. Ex-pats describe life here as western with an added dash of island paradise.
Diversity definitely isn’t a buzzword in Mauritius culture. The right to religious freedom is written into the constitution. Indo-Mauritian, Creole, Sino-Mauritian, Franco-Mauritian, European, Chinese or South African – all Mauritians enjoy one thing: Sega. A type of music – with a dance to go with it. A very Creole experience – it’s hard to resist joining in. If you find yourself with a furrowed brow in the art scene – you’re not alone. Early work is so distinctly French, it’s hard to tell a Mauritian scene from the gallic countryside at times. Modern art is unmistakably Mauritian.
Expect to be somewhat confused at various times during your stay. The cultural mix has seen Catholicism take on some distinctly voodoo vibes, conservative types embrace the oh-so-French double-kiss greeting and, despite being surrounded by bikini-wearing tourists, women here stay fully clothed for a dip in the shallows. Oh, and there’s no official language. So expect a mix of French, Mauritian Creole and a smattering of English.
One tradition in Mauritius culture that visitors will definitely embrace is the sundowner. Supposedly limited to holidays and weekends, you spot this happening on any day of the week. As the sun sets, everyone heads to the beach. BYOB and possibly some fresh fish for an impromptu barbecue. More elaborate sundowners include drumming, dancing and board games. Expect to see all cultures enjoying the simple sunset together – living in harmony is something they are all extremely proud of. So don’t be too shy to enjoy the sunset too.
Reading up on Mauritius culture only gets you so far. To really get to the heart of the island, embrace it by exploring, seeing and best of all, joining in. When it comes to what to experience in Mauritius, it’s tempting to just say ‘everything!’. That’s perhaps a smidge too vague so, we’ve suggested some activities to get you started, where you go from here, well that’s up to you.
If you’ve been browsing the souvenir shelves you may have spotted some delicate, but distinctly pricey wooden ships. Handcrafted by islanders, these works of wood wizardry take months to make. Peering at them in a gift shop is one thing – but actually meeting their makers, and getting the lowdown on their secret skills is another. Pop along to one of the open workshops and chat it up with the whittlers and carvers.
It seems almost obvious, but we’re going to point you towards the street food bites first. Don’t worry – that doesn’t always mean tearing yourself away from the beach. Coastal food trucks will keep you carbed up with split pea stuffed pancakes topped with tangy pickles and rich tomato sauce. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity – ask for a dholl puri and tuck in.
In the restaurants, curry fiends can try a new take on a vindaloo. Served hot or cold, stay with us, the vindaye sits alongside fish – expect a blast of acidity from the vinegar-laden sauce. Other dishes you’ll want to try include: rougaille – a Mauritian ragout with a touch of spice – or try an upside down bowl. A Mauritian – with Chinese heritage – dish of rice, veggies, chicken and a fried egg. Look out for a bol renverse on menus to sample it.
Faith and Festivals
It’s safe to say the Mauritian festival calendar is packed with celebrations, and the religious sites are eclectic. Time your stay right and you could find yourself awash with coloured water and powder in the messy Holi festivities. Islanders celebrate Chinese new year – complete with dragons and firecrackers but perhaps our favourite festival is Festival Kreol. In late November, Creole culture is celebrated with a lot of Sega dancing, singing food and traditional crafts.
For something a little more sober, take a thoughtful wander around some Mauritian holy sites. On the island, these range from small shrines to sacred lakes, pagodas, mosques and churches. The lake at Grand Bassin is perhaps the most fascinating. A crater lake with giant statues and an ornate temple. Keep an eye on the resident monkeys – they haven’t yet grasped the thou shalt not steal vibe.
Orbzii tip: Take off any leather items before going inside any Hindu sites. It’s not enforced – but is considered polite and respectful. At all places of worship, cover legs and shoulders – and always use your right hand to hand anything to someone – be it a donation, or prayer book.
Mooch in the markets
Yes, a stroll through the market is a holiday activity all too often bandied about. But in Mauritius it’s your gateway to culture, food, traditions, everyday life, history and, the best bounty of all, local produce. The one to sample – if you can limit yourself to just one – is in Port Louis. Since 1844, vendors have been peddling their wares here. And you’ll struggle to find a more heady mix of fresh fish, tropical fruits and fragrant herbs.
Sample the tea
Mauritius tea might be as fresh as you’ll find – but we’re not simply telling you to take a seat and sip on a cuppa. The island’s relationship with the crop goes way back – and hasn’t always been plain sailing. Visit plantations, browse their museums and tie it in with a look around the old sugar mills to unravel how the two have combined to shape Mauritian culture. If you want a pre-packed solution, Tea Route tours take in the main sights – with tea and rum tasting sessions as an added bonus.
Can’t wait to see if your hips can make it on the Sega dance scene? Let’s get you to a sundowner sharpish with the Orbzii app. Book your ultimate Mauritius trip – and you’ll be dancing on the beach in no time.